World Health Day, a spotlight on health issues in Africa

The need to improve access to healthcare has been reinforced by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the health inequalities between the developed and developing worlds. To date, less than 10% of Africans have been vaccinated against the new coronavirus and access to vaccines remains generally unequal1.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated Africa’s unequal access to vaccines and therefore improved healthcare, with less than 1% of life-saving vaccines being manufactured on the continent,” says Siby Diabira, Director Proparco’s regional office in Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean.

There is a lot of work to be done to provide equitable access to vaccines in Africa, which carries a disproportionately high disease burden.

For companies and communities on the continent, this represents an opportunity in the production of healthcare, as investments in advanced pharmaceutical technologies will allow manufacturers to contribute to better access to treatments, to respond to public health emergencies and to create economic, export and job creation opportunities.

Last year, vaccine development in Africa received a multi-billion rand boost. In June 2021, the Agence Française de Développement Group (AFD Group) through its subsidiary Proparco, in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the German Development Finance Institution DEG and the American Corporation for International Development Finance (DFC) ), announced a joint financial package for the South African company Aspen Pharmacare to support the development of vaccines for Africa. It will also enable vaccine manufacturing know-how and knowledge sharing on the continent.

The €600 million (R9.63 billion) joint financing, comprising €200 million from IFC, €156 million from Proparco, €144 million from DEG and €100 million from DFC, will reduce Africa’s dependence on global manufacturers of vaccines and other therapies. This is IFC’s largest global investment and engagement in health to date.

The financial package dovetailed with a call from African governments to strengthen the continent’s vaccine supply chain in response to the pandemic and promote longer-term health sector resilience.

Aspen CEO Stephen Saad said the investment would refinance existing debt and strengthen the balance sheet to support its initiative to produce vaccines and other therapies in Africa and emerging markets. Aspen then partnered with Johnson & Johnson to compound, finish, fill and package the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. It also recently built a fully certified sterile injectables facility at its existing site in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth).

Since 2014, Proparco has increased its commitment to companies and financial institutions in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East from €1 billion per year to €2.5 billion, with France seeking including partnerships in Africa.

“Aspen will be in a strong position to supply vaccines to the African continent. Proparco’s intention is to contribute to local production and manufacturing, thereby ensuring African solutions to African challenges,” says Diabira.

The aim was to facilitate more local access across all sectors, with Proparco focusing on green energy, climate change initiatives and health.

In March, a consortium of nine development partners, including Proparco, also announced a partnership with the Biovac institution to support the biopharmaceutical company’s vaccine manufacturing expansion. Biovac will raise around $150 million (R2.3 billion) to build local vaccine manufacturing capacity across Africa.

Biovac is a partnership formed with the South African government in 2003 to establish local vaccine manufacturing capacity for national health management and security. The company aims to establish international capacity to manufacture world-class African vaccines to meet national and regional needs.

Diabira says Proparco’s support for the Biovac infrastructure project would provide capacity for the next decade, as the facility’s expanded potential is expected to come on stream in three to four years.

“By working together, the private and public sectors, especially senior government officials, can empower local businesses and citizens to find solutions and close the existing gaps in healthcare and other sectors that people are struggling with. Africa is facing. World Health Day can demonstrate the inherent opportunities for Africa to move forward,” says Diabira.

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